September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Next Generation Science Standards – A Classroom Teacher Perspective

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

by Michelle French, Lisa Hegdahl, Jeff Orlinsky, and Sean Timmons

“Scientists think of science both as a process for discovering properties of nature and as the resulting body of knowledge, whereas most people seem to think of science, or perhaps scientists, as an authority that provides some information — just one more story among the many that they use to help make sense of their world.” – Helen Quinn

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide educators with an important opportunity to improve science education, student engagement, and student achievement. Based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education, the NGSS are intended to reflect a new vision and will shift the way science education is delivered in America.  The emphasis on application will require students to understand science concepts more deeply since the focus of the NGSS has been placed on “students doing” rather than “students knowing”.

Most states, including California are currently implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Mathematics, which include requirements for using English and math within the context of science. This is important to science educators because science will become a more integral component of every student’s comprehensive education. The NGSS are being designed to align with the CCSS to ensure that science becomes “symbiotic” to of all content areas.  How will the Next Generation Science Standards impact K-12 educators in California?  Let’s think about this question from the perspective lenses of high school, middle school/jr. high, and elementary school educators.

The High School Perspective – Jeff Orlinsky

First, it is important to acknowledge the complex world of our California high schools. Students face a multitude of performance pressures such as the CAHSEE, end of course exams like the C.S.T., International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement classes, as well as five to seven courses each day. Most high schools  are facing increased accountability via high stakes measurements such as the API and AYP that are based on student performance. Unsurprisingly, high schools have modified courses and the sequence of classes to best optimize student performance on end of course exams.  As a result of this experience, many teachers may see the NGSS as just another set of learning objectives we will have to add to our courses.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The NGSS have the potential to add a great deal of value to learning, as they are about student performance and demonstrating the interconnectedness of different disciplines.  They focus on specific core ideas in science and engineering, and avoid the pitfall of trying to cover too much.  To the teachers in a high school, this is great news.  We would have the opportunity to shift from teaching about science to letting students actually experiment and analyze data they have collected.

That is not to say that the drafts of the NGSS have been received by high school educators without questions and concerns. One continuing theme of concern has been the way the NGSS has grouped the standards in a grade band of 9-12 and the inclusion or intermingling of physics and chemistry, in a grouping of physical science performance expectations. If you are a teacher who shares this concern, you are encouraged to review Appendix J. In Appendix J – Model Course Mapping in Middle and High School for the NGSS, Achieve offers several models of how high school courses could be organized around the new standards. For example, two of the models incorporate current high school course sequences while another offers a more integrated approach.

Whichever model is chosen, either on a district or state level, science teachers need to be a part of the discussions.  We high school teachers must become active participants working with middle and elementary teachers to better support K-12 science education for all students.

The Middle School and Jr. High Perspective – by Lisa Hegdahl

Much like my high school colleagues as addressed above, upon reading the draft of the NGSS, one of the first things that strikes most California middle school and jr. high teachers is that instead of dividing the core disciplines by subject and grade level into Earth science in 6th grade, life science in 7th grade, and physical science in 8th grade, the NGSS have twelve “Disciplinary Core Ideas” (comprised of Earth, life, and physical sciences) to be addressed in grades 6-8. As teachers used to a system where each grade level has its own set of standards, having them grouped in a grade band left many wondering what would be taught in what grade. Per the request of the Lead State partners, and in order to help readers of the standards visualize how these standards could be divided amongst the grades, Achieve developed Appendix J – Model Course Mapping in Middle and High School for the NGSS. This appendix provides two suggestions for the division of coursework in grades 6-8 along with justifications for choosing one model over another. It is important to note that these are models and not necessarily how California will choose to structure its courses. This debate will happen after the final standards are released.

Middle school and junior high teachers will also find that the NGSS offer more freedom to explore the real world of scientific and engineering practices than the current California science content standards allow.  Rather than listing separate investigation and experimentation (I&E) standards, the NGSS integrate the scientific and engineering practices into the performance expectation. Scientific practices should be quite familiar middle school and jr. high teachers in California; however, the engineering and design practices are a less familiar element  being incorporated into the standards (as called for in the Framework for K-12 Science Education). In order to help readers of the standards easily identify the areas where the engineering and design practices are integrated into the standards, the writers provided a separate list of performance expectations from the standards that incorporate the engineering and design practices. The integration of the scientific and engineering practices into the disciplinary core ideas (content) calls for a profound shift in the way these standards will be assessed. “Future assessment will not assess student understanding of core ideas separately from their abilities to use the practices of Science and Engineering.” (Appendix F, p.1)

Many middle schools inherit students with little to no science background.  The developers of the NGSS realize this and included a chart in Appendix E showing the “Increasing Sophistication of Student Thinking” for each performance expectation.  Middle school and jr. high educators can use the matrix to identify the prior knowledge students need to have in order to begin mastering the performance expectations, and the Assessment Boundaries included in the performance expectations help to clarify where one course ends and the next begins. However, the NGSS materials make it clear that the NGSS are student outcomes at the end of coursework – they are not curriculum.  Instructional lessons will need to be created in the future to guide students to each end point.

Even with all these efforts to provide clarity and guidance, upon reading the NGSS for the first time the thought of transitioning from California’s current science standards to the NGSS can be overwhelming.  There are numerous steps that will need to be taken in order to implement instruction of the new standards in the classroom after they are adopted. I recommend you read NGSS: What’s Next? in this month’s issue of California Classroom Science (CCS). It will be important for teachers to maintain their engagement in this process in order to help stem the feeling of being overwhelmed and to help structure a system that will support them. 

The Primary and Intermediate School Perspective – by Michelle French and Sean Timmons

As primary and intermediate teachers, we hold the future of science and engineering in our hands.  If the foundation in the primary and intermediate grades is strong, then all subsequent grades will have solid building blocks in place. As the Middle School Perspective pointed out, however, at this time many students are going through school without attaining the scientific literacy needed to be successful in future grade-levels.  The NGSS seek to rectify the problem, though. On page 3 of Appendix A-Conceptual Shifts in the NGSS, it is stated that “Choosing to omit content at any grade level or band will impact the success of the student toward understanding the core ideas and puts additional responsibilities on teachers later in the process.”  This speaks directly to primary and intermediate teachers, and we have a tremendous opportunity to make positive changes here.

Primary and intermediate teachers have a distinct advantage in that we have self-contained classrooms. We can more easily blend project-based learning with integrated language arts, math, and science performance expectations. Instead of teaching language as a separate entity, we can give students a real, authentic reason to listen, speak, read, and write.  For example, think of how excited students will be in kindergarten to communicate – through speaking, writing, dictation, and drawing – how they used their scientific knowledge to design a structure that protects the Earth’s surface from the heat of the sun.  As teachers in self-contained classrooms, we have the luxury to incorporate NGSS and CCSS in tandem to create communities of thinkers and problem solvers.

A System Perspective

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama stated, “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together as one nation and one people.”

As professional educators, with the NGSS and the CCSS we have the opportunity to come together and forge a renewal and revitalization of science education.  This national paradigm shift from teaching isolated factoids of information to deepening core ideas through engagement in scientific and engineering practices and the application of crosscutting concepts will be a breath of fresh air for some educators and intimidating for others.  With this in mind, we need to come together and support each other in order to “equip our children for the future.”  We need to take advantage of professional development opportunities that come our way to strengthen our understanding of the NGSS and how they might be implemented in our classrooms, schools, and districts.

Along that vein we encourage you to maintain your membership in CSTA or join today if you are not a member, and participate in the 2013 California Science Education Conference this October. Membership will insure that you have access to the latest information and ways to be involved in the upcoming conversations around assessment, curriculum, and final standards development. Attending the conference will provide you with an opportunity to network with peers from all of the state who are wrestling with the same issues you are as well as attend professional development sessions on the NGSS and CCSS. 

Michelle French Michelle French is a fourth-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Tulare and is CSTA’s primary director.

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and CSTA’s middle/junior high school director.

Jeff Orlinsky teaches science at Warren High School and is CSTA’s high school director.

Sean Timmons is science coordinator for the San Joaquin County Office of Education and CSTA’s intermediate director.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

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